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Monday, 13 March 2006

Fundamentalists won't like how they're portrayed in this, but then neither will anyone else!

This is almost as old as the Internet, so I have no idea who originated it. I also note that it has taken on several new forms and additions, but this, as far as I know, is the original version. It's a classic!

Suppose you're traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do?

That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

1. A post modernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

2. Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.

3. A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn't take it too seriously, he doesn't feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

4. An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn't bother to read the sign but he'll stop if the car in front of him does.

5. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

6. A preacher might look up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean: 1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; 2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things:

-Take another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law.
-Stop at the stop sign, say "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop," wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed. Incidently, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: R[abbi] Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. R. ben Isaac says: Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says: "Be still, and know that I am God." R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: "Stop, father!" In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written:
"Out of the mouth of babes." R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: "Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens." R. ben Nathan says: When were stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: "let them serve as signs." R. Yeshuah says: ... [continues for three more pages]

8. A Pharisee does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.

9. A scholar from Jesus seminar concludes that the passage "STOP" undoubtably was never uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

10. A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called "Q". There is an excellent 300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar's commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunately omission in the commentary, however; the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.

11. An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage "STOP". For example, "ST" contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas "OP" contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the "O" and the "P".

12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there.

13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar emends the text, changing "T" to "H". "SHOP" is much easier to understand in context than "STOP" because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occured because "SHOP" is so similar to "STOP" on the sign several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.

I found the apparent source for this piece, with some updated and expanded examples. But which reading is original--the shorter or longer?

Friday, 10 March 2006

Hypothesizing on a Haldane's dilemma for textual critics

Under normal circumstances the older a text is than its rivals, the greater are its chances to survive in a plurality or a majority of the texts extant at any subsequent period. But the oldest text of all is the autograph. Thus it ought to be taken for granted that, barring some radical dislocation in the history of transmission, a majority of texts will be far more likely to represent correctly the character of the original than a small minority of texts. This is especially true when the ratio is an overwhelming 8:2. Under any reasonably normal transmissional conditions, it would be . . . quite impossible for a later text-form to secure so one-sided a preponderance of extant witnesses.
- Zane Hodges' Dallas Seminary class notes, published in Pickering, Wilbur, The Identity of the New Testament Text

How does a new textual reading make its way into the manuscript corpus? I can think of a few possibilities:

1)Scribal error. Since all any scribe at any time is liable to any error, one would expect the same errors to crop up in a variety of mss at a variety of times. Some errors are more likely than others, and some are so only at certain times. So errors will tend to occur in clumps.

2)Editorial smoothing.
Since all mss have errors, any scribe copying a ms is prone to smooth out a perceived error in his exemplar. Some non-errors will in this way be mistakingly turned into errors. Some originally difficult readings will be more prone to be smoothed out, and this will be more likely to occur at some times than at others. So smoothed readings will tend to occur in clumps.

3)Theological tampering.

a)This may not always be intentional, but may consist of selectively choosing mss that have undergone process #2, thus perpetuating for theological reasons a reading that originated for soley editorial reasons. But as time goes by I have less and less confidence that this was very often actually the case.

b)This may be intentional. This is reported to have been the case in Marcion's gospel of Luke; in Jefferson's Indian Bible; and, quite likely, in Tatian's Diatesseron.

The problem with variant readings, however they are introduced, is exactly the problem with the genetic variations hypothesized by Darwinism: how do these variants, at their origin counting as only an infinitessimal fraction of all other readings (or alleles), supplant all others to eventually become the overwhelming majority? This problem in genetics is known as Haldane's Dilemma. It was first described by the noted evolutionist JBS Haldane in his 1957 article The Cost of Natural Selection, and it has never been solved. Needing an original-sounding surname with which to christen my own version of this dilemma as it applies to textual criticism, I will call it the White Man's Dilemma.

To state the two dilemmas in a more scientific way, I'll begin with Haldane's:

In a fixed population, the cost of substitution runs orders of magnitude higher than the rate of transfer. Thus the time required to genetically mutate one species into another exceeds by several factors the time actually postulated.

Now to translate that into English:
It takes an unbelieveably long time for a new variant to spontaneously arise and subsequently replace all other variants in the gene pool of any species.

To give the implications:
Humanoids could not have evolved into humans in 10 million years. After a mere 10 million years of evolution, there would still be lots of "lower" humanoids around, along with several subsequent intermediary species, but only relatively few humans. There has not yet been nearly enough time for the substitution of human for humanoid to have run its course genetically.

Now for the White Man's Dilemma:

Over the course of an authorised transmission of textual readings, the cost of substitution runs orders of magnitude higher than the rate of transfer. Thus the time required to completely replace one text-type with another far exceeds the time actually postulated.

Or in plain English:

It is one thing for a new reading to arise in the corpus of an authorised text. It is quite another for that reading to replace all other variants in the corpus to become the new reading of the authorised text. The normal process of authorised textual transmission constantly weeds out new readings and reinstates old ones.

The implications:
First of all, the practical implications:

Hort claimed that the Neutral text, which was the official authorised text of the new state church under Constantine, was completely replaced in a matter of centuries at the most with the Syrian text, differing in thousands of readings from the Neutral--several affecting entire verses, some entire passages the length of a chapter. But under the constant supervision of the Catholic Church (which excersized authority throughout the Mediterannean world at least until the time of Charlemagne), such a substitution could not have taken place that rapidly.

On the other hand, such substitutions as may have occurred would have taken place at the jucture of two separate authorities. Thus we see textual streams separating at the border of the Eastern and Western empires; at the Caucasian border of the Eastern empire; and at its northern border with the barbaric hordes. But these readings always remained local in scope. No innovation could have crossed all borders and resulted in the readings which are now attested in the overwhelming majority of ALL manuscripts in ALL languages, other than those Hort labeled the Neutral Text. The White Man's' Dilemma stands as a stubborn obstacle to Hort's Syian Recension Theory, which underlies the new textus receptus he proffered in replacement for the former one which he despised.

And now the historical implications:

Hort was a Darwinist. He liked the idea of Genetic Change Toward Improvement Through Natural Selection of Random Mutations. He applied the idea to his understanding of the transmission of the New Testament Text, and found the textus receptus of his day to be nothing but an evolved result of natural selection of random scribal errors, originating in the Deep Past from a punctuated quantum leap in textual change brought about by intelligent design. Applying some intelligent design of his own, he resurrected an extinct textform and with it successfully supplanted the reigning paradigm in a punctuated leap backward.

Hort's theories--and/or the resurrected readings they sanction--have been ex cathedra for Darwinist textual critics ever since.

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

The death of widowhood

CounterReaders may not know, or appreciate, the stand this blogger takes on marriage. So to set the record straight, it is as follows:
One man, one wife, for life. Every marriage ends in widowhood.

Unless, of course, both partners die simultaneously--an exception for which allowance has been made in my will. But this is hardly ever the case, compared to the many other ways marriages are thought to end these days.

Speaking of which, I note that widowhood itself, what's left of it, isn't even fashionable any more. I keep running across references like "the wife of the late so-and-so". And it's no longer a typo--it's a reflection of actual usuage. As if we don't even have a word for such a person. Well, we once did, and that word was "widow." And last I checked, it's still in the dictionary of current usage. As is "widower," which was never so common a thing as a widow, nor was its respecive title.

Now, language does change, and anyone older than a single generation--as I am--has seen it happen. It has been a long time since a woman was commonly referred to as "The Widow Smith," but widows are still allowed to list their phone numbers under their late husbands' names, decades after those marriages ended. Once our concept of widowhood inexorably follows the same fate as our word for it, that practice will have to end. Already it is impossible for a woman to fill out a form on the internet using the title "Mrs. John Smith."

Widowhood is an integral part of my culture. All four of my children's great-grandmothers, now deceased, were widows when my children knew them. Each one lived in the house her late husband had shared with her for most of their marriage. But this is a dying culture, and most young people cannot relate to such permanence.

Some day, widowhood will no longer be a recognized status in the culture at large. How it will happen, or when, I can't say. But those who believe and live the Bible will find themselves at odds with their culture over yet another core belief:
The need to "honor them that are widows indeed."

Thursday, 2 March 2006

419 Update: hot off the keyboard!

My dear sir,
As I mentioned you in my previous missle, "unbeknownst to my erstwhile employer, I had already secreted away a substantial portion of both of our shares under the guise of moving it to a safer location than where it is being stored until it can be safely disposed of. . . PLEASE RESPOND SOONEST."

During your inaction, the bulk of our bounty has been unearthed in a Dumpster near the Chunnel entrance and is now under confiscation. This does not bode well for the prospects of your favorite charity. But I have a plan to recover the money from the aforementioned £30million overage which is presently buried in various secret locations known only to my erstwhile employer.

Please meet me at the Belgrade airport with $2million in DIAMONDS, which I will proffer to get back in the good graces of my security organisation. This will allow me to acquire the locations of the horde and pass that information on to you. The reward money you earn for reporting this to the authorities will more than cover your time and effort expended in getting me the diamonds.


PS. Be sure to get the diamonds in BRUSELLS from a reputable broker. Conflict diamonds will only further complicate this already complied transaction.